If You Find This by Matthew Baker

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if you find thisIf You Find This by Matthew Baker
Little Brown, 2015

This strange and rather lovely book looks and feels like it’s a fantasy, but is actually a poignant story about families especially fathers, friendship, growing up and growing old, and the subjectivity of memory.

11 year-old Nicholas Funes’ family is falling apart: his father has had to move away to get a job and now his mother is selling their house, but Nicholas can’t countenance leaving there as his still-born brother is buried in the garden under a tree. So when his Grandpa Rose appears with wild tales of priceless hidden family heirlooms and clues as to their whereabouts, Nicholas thinks he may have found a way to stay. A misfit himself, Nicholas teams up with two other social outcasts to try and solve the puzzle and find the treasure.

Nicholas is a math and music prodigy, and his quirky narrative style includes using musical dynamics to refer to the volume or sound of a voice or noise eg “murmured piano.” In all honesty I’m not sure how much this really adds to the text, but it’s quite cool. Much more illuminating, is when Nicholas uses a similar technique to insert unsaid words, for example, when he is describing his new friends: “But all of us were freaks. I was a misfitbrainy, Zeke was a misfitweird, Jordan was a misfitmean. We were all misfits of some power.”

If You Find This gives a very sympathetic portrait of the dignity and indignity of old age, as both Grandpa Rose and Jordan’s grandfather face the ends of their lives. Mr. Baker also writes with sharp honesty about family dynamics, particularly the role of fathers. The three boys are at a challenging age: “Before you’re eleven, you’ll believe whatever your parents tell you, but once you’re eleven you have to start choosing what to believe, and sometimes that puts you at odds with your parents.” They don’t always make good choices, and there aren’t always consequences for this, but it is possible to see the form of the young men that they want to become emerge.

The cover and set-up will likely draw in upper elementary/middle grade readers, but I think they may find it’s not exactly what they were anticipating – will they stick with it? I hope so.

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